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BBB - Hepatitis A Virus

Bad Bug Book:
Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins Handbook
Hepatitis A Virus

A new version of the Bad Bug Book was released in 2012, below is a previous version.


1. Name of the Organism: Hepatitis A Virus

Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is classified with the enterovirus group of the Picornaviridae family. HAV has a single molecule of RNA surrounded by a small (27 nm diameter) protein capsid and a buoyant density in CsCl of 1.33 g/ml. Many other picornaviruses cause human disease, including polioviruses, coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, and rhinoviruses (cold viruses).

2. Nature of Acute Disease:

The term hepatitis A (HA) or type A viral hepatitis has replaced all previous designations: infectious hepatitis, epidemic hepatitis, epidemic jaundice, catarrhal jaundice, infectious icterus, Botkins disease, and MS-1 hepatitis.

3. Nature of Disease:

Hepatitis A is usually a mild illness characterized by sudden onset of fever, malaise, nausea, anorexia, and abdominal discomfort, followed in several days by jaundice. The infectious dose is unknown but presumably is 10-100 virus particles.

4. Diagnosis of Human Illness:

Hepatitis A is diagnosed by finding IgM-class anti-HAV in serum collected during the acute or early convalescent phase of disease. Commercial kits are available.

5. Associated Foods:

HAV is excreted in feces of infected people and can produce clinical disease when susceptible individuals consume contaminated water or foods. Cold cuts and sandwiches, fruits and fruit juices, milk and milk products, vegetables, salads, shellfish, and iced drinks are commonly implicated in outbreaks. Water, shellfish, and salads are the most frequent sources. Contamination of foods by infected workers in food processing plants and restaurants is common.

6. Relative Frequency of Disease:

Hepatitis A has a worldwide distribution occurring in both epidemic and sporadic fashions. About 22,700 cases of hepatitis A representing 38% of all hepatitis cases (5-year average from all routes of transmission) are reported annually in the U.S. In 1988 an estimated 7.3% cases were foodborne or waterborne. HAV is primarilly transmitted by person-to-person contact through fecal contamination, but common-source epidemics from contaminated food and water also occur. Poor sanitation and crowding facilitate transmission. Outbreaks of HA are common in institutions, crowded house projects, and prisons and in military forces in adverse situations. In developing countries, the incidence of disease in adults is relatively low because of exposure to the virus in childhood. Most individuals 18 and older demonstrate an immunity that provides lifelong protection against reinfection. In the U.S., the percentage of adults with immunity increases with age (10% for those 18-19 years of age to 65% for those over 50). The increased number of susceptible individuals allows common source epidemics to evolve rapidly.

7. Course of Disease and Complications:

The incubation period for hepatitis A, which varies from 10 to 50 days (mean 30 days), is dependent upon the number of infectious particles consumed. Infection with very few particles results in longer incubation periods. The period of communicability extends from early in the incubation period to about a week after the development of jaundice. The greatest danger of spreading the disease to others occurs during the middle of the incubation period, well before the first presentation of symptoms. Many infections with HAV do not result in clinical disease, especially in children. When disease does occur, it is usually mild and recovery is complete in 1-2 weeks. Occasionaly, the symptoms are severe and convalescence can take several months. Patients suffer from feeling chronically tired during convalescence, and their inability to work can cause financial loss. Less than 0.4% of the reported cases in the U.S. are fatal. These rare deaths usually occur in the elderly.

8. Target Populations:

All people who ingest the virus and are immunologically unprotected are susceptible to infection. Disease however, is more common in adults than in children.

9. Food Analysis:

The virus has not been isolated from any food associated with an outbreak. Because of the long incubation period, the suspected food is often no longer available for analysis. No satisfactory method is presently available for routine analysis of food, but sensitive molecular methods used to detect HAV in water and clinical specimens, should prove useful to detect virus in foods. Among those, the PCR amplification method seems particularly promising.

10. Selected Outbreaks:

CDC/MMWR: Hepatitis A Virus
Provides a list of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports at CDC relating to this organism or toxin. The date shown is the date the item was posted on the Web, not the date of the MMWR. The summary statement shown are the initial words of the overall document. The specific article of interest may be just one article or item within the overall report.
NIH/PubMed: Hepatitis A Virus
Provides a list of research abstracts contained in the National Library of Medicine's MEDLINE database for this organism or toxin.
Agricola: Hepatitis A Virus
Provides a list of research abstracts contained in the National Agricultural Library database for this organism or toxin.

For more information on recent outbreaks see the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports from CDC.

11. Education and Background Resources:

Literature references can be found at the links below.

  • Loci index for genome Hepatitis A

    Available from the GenBank Taxonomy database, which contains the names of all organisms that are represented in the genetic databases with at least one nucleotide or protein sequence.

  • CDC/Centers for Inectious Diseases Fact File

    Important information and statistics about Hepatitis

Page Last Updated: 10/07/2014
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